What’s Behind the Masc?

What’s the difference between girls and boys? Looking at a thesaurus will give you a good idea. Under feminine you will find words like: girlish, softdelicategentle, and graceful. Under masculine you will find words like: virile, manly, muscular, strong, strapping, well built, robust, brawny, powerful, red-blooded, vigorous, rugged, and unwomanly. On paper it would seem that girls and boys are very different, but in reality they are both humans capable of the same emotions and capacities. Yet as a society we do not let that be the prevailing idea, we choose to box each other up and apply these antiquated, sexist, and patriarchal values that are extremely destructive. We are slowly killing our boys with these unattainable and wrong constructs of what it is to be a man and the fear of being thought of as a woman or of having feminine characteristics. We are slowly but systematically turning our boys into angry, abusive, sexist, depressed, violent, and emotionally depleted rapists, murderers, and fathers. We are dehumanizing them without even realizing what we’ve done.

Recently, the Faculty of Communication and Design created the Centre for Fashion Diversity and Social Change. The centre’s pilot project is Refashioning Masculinity which aims to create a society where we’re all free to be ourselves and can equally value each other in all our diversity. They are using the power of fashion to re-imagine men’s gender identities and foster their diversity. As part of this project the centre held a screening of the film The Mask You Live In. The film follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. The film illustrates how society can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.

Gender norms are a part of our society, whether we like it or not we are constantly applying them and labeling each other and our actions as either male or female. This creates the idea that girls and boys are different and therefore should act unlike one another. This also seems to build on the idea that there is something wrong with you if you don’t stay true to these gender norms, if you don’t wear and exemplify your label. But what is wrong with a boy who cries or a boy who shows his emotions and knows how to live with them? In my eyes there’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with how society and individuals respond to that boy. Bullying and abuse is generally what follows when a boy shows emotion. Interestingly, if a young boy cries there doesn’t seem to be an issue, it is only as that boy ages and grows that he is expected to shut off his emotions with the exception of anger. We teach boys that they are not allowed to have emotion and this only leads to the death of self.

How is it that boys are taught not to feel? Our society holds ideals of what a man is and these ideals slip into parenting style and peer relationships via mass media. We teach our boys through example, we show them exactly what a man is and how to act like one. Unfortunately, we show them that a man is someone who cannot love and is entitled to respect. Someone of power who dominates over others and uses violence to win, never falling prey to feminine or weak character.

Looking first at parenting style, boys are expected to grow into men and mothers and fathers are the ones who will take them there. This results in a twisted parental fear that if they allow their sons to show emotion they will not become men, but will instead turn into sissies that will not survive adulthood. This may result in emotional neglect and shaming of sons from their parents, a form of abuse that leads to depression and poor self-worth and -esteem. This may also lead to physical abuse as a way of “training”, to dehumanize boys so that they can become “tough” and exude masculinity. Abuse may also been seen as a way to stamp out “wrong” behaviour. Parents often only have their own upbringing to use as a source of reference when raising their children and external influences such as internalized homophobia and sexism alter parenting style. This means that boys who become men who become fathers may treat their sons the way they were treated by their fathers, to pressure them into the way of masculinity. If a man was raised in a culture of abuse and has lived a life where he has not been able to express emotion and has developed mental illness he may abuse his own children as a result, teaching them his ways. Thankfully, this is not the way all boys are raised, parenting operates on a spectrum. However, even those boys who are raised with love are exposed to society and media which alter their view on the world and on themselves.

When boys enter the school system they become a part of their own micro-culture and peer groups which reinforce male and female gender norms that they learn either at home or from media. Boys pressure each other to be more masculine, to not act like a girl. Boys are pressured to fit the social constructs of masculinity out of fear of social isolation and alienation, but even when they accept these constructs they become isolated in their own minds with the inability to reach out. This further removes the emotional language from boys and harms their mental health. With this we see higher rates of depression and suicide among young boys. As boys age and force their emotions inward they become more likely to commit suicide than girls. Additionally, this inward channeling of emotion and snubbing of expression build up to the point where boys act out in violent ways. In media, including video games, music, film, TV, and pornography boys are shown that violence is a successfully and accepted way to handle anger. With this learned idea in mind combined with built up aggression and distorted emotional and mental health boys reach for violence rather than help.

This article may seem an extremist point of view, but it is not untrue. Why is there on average one school shooting a week in the United States? Why are 90% of the shooters male? These men are othered into “mental health” and the gender link is ignored. Perhaps the reason these boys have mental illness and explode in violent ways is because that is what they are trained to do, that is what they are taught is acceptable. If you feel any negative emotion channel it into anger until you can no longer withstand it, then express your anger with violence on others. Rather than, if you feel a negative emotion show it, ask for help and take off your mask.

Boys are human just like girls. They have emotion, they feel and they should be allowed to show those feelings. Masculinity has become warped to the point where it no longer even stands for strength and power, it means anger and violence. A man is no more a man when he cannot feel, he is no longer human. We need to teach our boys that to be a man is to have caring and compassion. We need to remove the masc from masculinity. We can be happy, sad, angry, confused, anxious, remorseful, fearful, guilty, grieving, bored, and loving.

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

I don’t know if Samuel Taylor Coleridge knew how accurate his verse from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was when he wrote it. The World Health Organization estimates that everyday billions of people around the world drink water that will kill them because they have no other source. These people are forced to drink contaminated water because there is no safe water. Drinking contaminated water leads to infection and ultimately death from things that we don’t even consider diseases in the minority world, conditions like Diarrhea kill people everyday. The World Health Organization reported that 1.4 million children die from Diarrhea every year. This is why March 22 is World Water Day, to raise awareness about the global issues of unsafe water and lack of access to water. Ryerson Urban Water hosted Walk4Water on Tuesday to raise awareness about the lack of quality water sources and the lack of access to water around the world. The 6Km walk on Tuesday represented the length that women and children in the majority world must walk to reach a water source multiple times a day.

Ryerson Urban Water is a multidisciplinary group from natural and social sciences, engineering, and education that want to advance the understanding and provide solutions for urban water issues using a holistic approach. They work to educate the public, industry, and government on urban water issues through educational programs, community outreach, and training. Additionally, they provide a platform/forum for discussion and exchange of ideas on urban water issues for the general public, scientists, engineers, industry, policy makers, and the different levels of government.

Living in Toronto for my whole life it is hard to imagine having to walk father than my tap for clean, drinkable water. What’s even harder to imagine is that there are people in Canada who don’t have access to clean water. Even though Canada has probably some of the cleanest water in the world and has access to a vast amount of fresh water there are still people living without equal access. Our provinces and territories have a responsibility to provide us with clean water and our cities have the responsibility of treating that water to ensure that it is safe for use. But what happens when you don’t live in a traditional city or town? What happens when you’re isolated on a manmade island and ignored by people around you? Your life slowly deteriorates into the poisonous water that surrounds you.

This is the reality for the Indigenous people of Shoal Lake. On the border of Ontario and Manitoba there is Shoal Lake, this is home to two First Nations communities, Shoal Lake 39 and 40. Almost 100 years ago the City of Winnipeg wanted a clean water source and they came to an agreement with the Province of Ontario to use the water of Shoal Lake. To access this water they built a 135Km aquaduct along with canals to divert muddy water and in doing so turned the land of Shoal Lake 40 into an island. The people of Shoal Lake 40 have been living in isolation on this island ever since, using a barge to access the mainland in summer and walking across the ice in winter. During the spring thaw and the fall freeze the mainland is entirely inaccessible.

The people of Shoal Lake 40 do not have access to clean water. Their island is surrounded by the muddy water that is diverted away from the water that Winnipeg uses. The only way the people of Shoal Lake get clean water is by having community members truck in bottled water from Kenora. This is not only expensive but it is harming the micro and macro-environment. Due to the isolation of Shoal Lake 40 they cannot remove anything from the island, this means that garbage piles up contaminating the land and water. The obvious solution here is to make a water treatment plant that serves Shoal Lake and if this was not an Indigenous community this would have been done decades ago. However, the community of Shoal Lake 40 has been told repeatedly that their population is too small to justify the cost of a water treatment plant. Too small to justify access to clean water, too small to justify access to a healthy life, too small justify life.

In 2000 the community of Shoal Lake 40 was put on a boil water advisory which means that their water was contaminated to the point that it would only be safe to consume if it was boiled first, to kill the bacteria that infests it. Why was it allowed to get to that point and how long were these people drinking contaminated water for? I can’t answer these questions but I presume an uncaring government played a role. A government that prides itself on the work we do around the world, keeping peace and aiding those in need when our own people are dying in isolation. Our people are dying because they don’t have access to medical professionals, they are dying because we are stealing their clean drinking water, they are dying because they fall through the ice trying to access the outside world, and they are dying because we are turning a blind eye. How much longer must the people of Shoal Lake 40 wait for access to clean water?

There is one spot of hope in this whole tale and this is the new Liberal Government. In December of 2015 Justin Trudeau came to an agreement with the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba to build Freedom Road. This is a connecting bridge between Shoal Lake 40 and the rest of the country. No longer will the people of Shoal Lake live in isolation. However, they will continue to live with contaminated water. After almost 100 years of isolation the Indigenous community of Shoal Lake 40 will have unobstructed access to the mainland, but how many more centuries have to pass before they can drink water from their taps as easily as I can, as easily as we all can?

Rally and March Against Sexism, Racism and Islamophobia in the Workplace

rally

On March 1st, students, faculty and community members met in the Student Learning Centre for a rally and march against sexism, racism and Islamophobia in the workplace.  The event was put on by the Sam Gindin Chair, the Anti-Racism Coalition at Ryerson, CESAR, the Jack Layton Chair and the Ryerson Feminist Collective.  The event was in response to recent incidents within Ryerson and the Ryerson Students’ Union, including the firing of Gilary Massa, who was on maternity leave.

The event began with a rally in the Student Learning Centre, with close to one hundred people gathered in the lobby.  Anne-Marie Singh, from the Anti-Racism Coalition at Ryerson, spoke first drawing parallels between the outdoor climate of wintry weather and the climate women experience.  She commented that “it’s not just chilly outside; it’s chilly in courtrooms, our work spaces, our offices…”  Singh cited racialized women on maternity leave being restructured out of their jobs as an example of this chilly climate at Ryerson.  She also discussed Indigenous faculty being questioned about their credentials and racialized staff being harassed with impunity at Ryerson.  Singh also spoke to those who hold privilege on this campus stating that, “if fighting racism seems racist, if equity feels like oppression, check your privilege”.  She also called out the Ryerson Students’ Union for needing to check their privilege if they think the firing of Gilary Massa was fair.

Massa also spoke at the event and was joined by the lawyer representing her for the Ontario Human Rights Complaint against the Ryerson Students’ Union and its current executives.  Massa described what happened to her as putting the rights of working women back 20 or 30 years; she didn’t think it was possible to be fired while on maternity leave and neither did most people she has spoken to following her termination.  She also discussed the business decision made by the Ryerson Students’ Union as anti-woman and anti-worker, and asked what kind of message this send to students and women who are entering the workforce and want to start a family.  Massa’s lawyer, Saron Beresellasi, thanked the Massa family for their decision to obtain council and fight this as well as encouraged people to pay attention to the case in hopes it will serve as a public education example for the RSU and others.

Awo Abokor, from the Ryerson Feminist Collective spoke about being frustrated by the lack of support for women, especially women of colour, in the workplace at Ryerson.  She went on to say there is no justice in the decision made that lead to Massa being fired and that intersections of class, race and gender were at play here.  Abokor sent a clear message to the entire Ryerson community: “if you don’t know what equity is, learn it”.  She described the firing of Massa as taking multiple steps back and not something that the RSU can simply apologize and move on from.

Social Work Professor, Akua Benjamin described her pride for Ryerson but was disappointed the school had not taken a stand.  Ryerson University has been quiet on the issue, but Benjamin urged the school to take a stand as this is not just something between Massa and the RSU.  She also urged people to stand in solidarity for change beyond coming out the rally; this issue is ongoing and women are continuously suffering from racism on this campus.  Benjamin described the decision to fire Massa as not in the best interest of Ryerson and not what Ryerson stands for.  Benjamin ended by speaking about Massa’s baby, who was present for the rally, and calling them a “social justice baby”.

Pascale Diverlus, from the United Black Student’s at Ryerson and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, described seeing first hand of what it’s like to be a Black woman on Ryerson’s campus and the terrifying culture that is being created.  Diverlus expressed concern for future students and the community as the RSU is currently not a place of equity; Massa was the only Black full-time worker at the RSU.  “Black lives matter, Black women matter, Black Muslim women matter, Black families matter”.

Following the rally, we marched to the Student Campus Centre, which houses the offices of the Ryerson Students’ Union.  We gathered on the third floor of the building, outside the executive team’s offices.  Winnie Ng and Janet Rodriguez lead the crowd in a number of chants; none of the executive members came out to address the crowd.

This rally can’t be the end; we need more action beyond March 1st.  Ng encouraged the crowd to write letters to the Ryerson Students’ Union and to bring this issue to the attention of Ryerson administration.  The injustice in the decision to fire Massa is clear to anyone with a basic understanding of human rights and equity, but this is not an isolated incident.  It’s a clear and blatant action that is representative of what racialized women experience in the workplace daily.  The workplace in general is a chilly place for racialized women across this country, but we have an opportunity to start changing that at Ryerson.

Soup and Substance: Ryerson’s Campus Climate

soupandsubstance

On February 23rd, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’s Soup and Substance.  The event discussed campus climate in relation to events both on and off campus, centering the voices and experiences of students.

The panel consisted of 6 students with diverse identities but with the common experience of a hostile and unsafe campus climate at times.  Student groups represented on the panel included: The Trans Collective, Muslim Students’ Association, Indigenous Students’ Association, Feminist Collective and Students Supporting Israel.  There was also a student present who spoke about the experience of having a disability on campus.  Before I go any further, I would like to point out that this selection of student groups did not contribute to a safe space for all students to attend and to participate in the panel.

In my representation of the Feminist Collective, I spoke broadly about the structures of misogyny and sexism, and how those have played out for our members this year.  The events I chose to focus on were the threats against women, feminists and specific departments at the University of Toronto in the fall and the visible emergence of a Men’s Issues group at Ryerson.  I spoke about how these events impacted our collective in general terms with a few specific examples of the harassment we experienced.  While I did not use “I” statements, I’m really glad that fellow panellists did as it demonstrated the ways individual interactions contribute to an unsafe campus climate for students.

In discussions about social justice, both on and off campus, we often discuss the structural nature of individual experiences.  We discuss how addressing racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, etc. at structural and institutional levels will impact individual experiences.  Many solutions to social injustice are based in eradicating these systems of oppression at systemic levels, as they should be, but this panel reminded me that all of these systems live in individuals.  With that being said, one of the ways we can create a safer campus climate is addressing the individual actions of students and faculty.

While the eradication of oppression needs to happen at a systemic level, there are very simple things individuals can do to change students’ experiences of campus climate.  Eradicating systems of oppression are long and hard-fought battles that will continue beyond our time at Ryerson; I commend all student activists who are fighting to address the heart of the matter which is systems of oppressions entwined in institutions.  Ryerson does not have a shortage of these activists, but if we want to see an improvement of student experience, individuals need to do some reflection and change their behaviours.  During the panel, I heard students share heartbreaking stories of their experiences on campus that ultimately reflect the individual choices of students and faculty in how they will interact with students.

Students with service dogs are being told to leave because their dog is scaring people; students without disabilities are taking the accessible seating in lecture halls and when asked to move, claim they got there first; trans students are being harassed for the clothing they wear and are concerned for their safety when they wear what they want; professors are using incorrect pronouns despite being told of the pronouns individual trans students use; students are being spit on and harassed while holding an event on campus; students with disabilities are being told to use the stairs to access the Student Learning Centre; students with disabilities that impact their vision are being told their eyes are scary; women who wear the hijab are being harassed on their way to class.  This is just a few examples.

All of these experiences which impact campus climate and a sense of safety at Ryerson are the result of individual actions.  While micro and macro manifestations of oppression are inherently related, one can change their individual actions.  Everything I described above manifests from the actions of individual people in the Ryerson community and they can change their actions at any time.

While the eradication of systems of oppression at institutional levels and the liberation of peoples affected by those systems is crucial, we can’t wait for widespread change.  Current students are unsafe now and they are impacted daily by the violence I described above.  A partial solution to a safer school climate lives within the individuals who hold privilege and attend/ work at Ryerson.  Those that hold privilege based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, ability, etc., are making this school unsafe through individual actions.  This is violent, unacceptable and we need to do better as a community at Ryerson.

Black History Month Spotlight: Maryann Elizabeth Francis

Francis

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we focus the spotlight on another strong Black Canadian female figure. Mayann Elizabeth Francis was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and came from parents who hailed from Cuba (her father) and Antigua (her mother). She had strong roots in the church, being brought up and raised surrounded by strong religious influences, especially due to the fact that her father was the archpriest of the African Orthodox Church.

Mayann Elizabeth grew up in a diverse neighbourhood of Nova Scotia, yet, despite the apparent diversity of her community, there were still quite prominent issues of racial discrimination and inequality occurring in various communities surrounding her. Mayann was made aware at quite a young age of the segregation and racial disparities that were occurring in her community, and in communities across the country. She knew that she wanted to be a part of the social justice movements that would work to abolish racial segregation and discrimination on Canada, and was compelled to do her part to affect change in some way. So Maryann pursued higher education at St. Mary’s University, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following her undergraduate education, she took a job for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Shortly after her experience with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, she moved to the United States, where she lived for 16 years. In those 16 years, Maryann was able to earn her Master of Arts degree, in 1984, with a specialization in Public Administration from New York University. She used her Masters degree to build a career with a focus on personnel and labour relations issues, issues that influence the quality of people’s lives, and issues that seek to be rectified through public bodies. This was in strong part due to her upbringing in an unstable racial climate in Nova Scotia, where racial segregation and discrimination were very real realities with which she experienced.

After 16 years in the United States, returned back to Canada and settled in the province of Ontario. There, she worked as an assistant deputy minister with the Ontario Women’s Directorate. Shortly after, she became the Director of the same organization. After her experience with the Ontario Women’s Directorate, she decided to return to her roots and pursue her career with the Nova Scotia human Right Commission. There, she became to Chief Executive Officer.

Mayann’s work to bring about social justice and equality within society was widely recognized both nationally and internationally. She received the Harry Jerome Award from the Black Business and Professional Association, the Multicultural Education Council of Nova Scotia Award, and the Golden Jubilee Medla. Furthermore, she is the first woman ombudsman, black or white, of Nova Scotia. She moved on to become the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 2006. She is also the first Black Nova Scotian, man or woman, and the second Black Canadian to hold this position.

Her extensive experience in various senior public service positions is in large part due to her experience with racism and segregation. As a Black woman during a time where segregation was the everyday reality for all people in the United States and in Canada, Mayann Elizabeth knew first-hand what it was like to be discriminated and judged for reasons beyond control. She understood what social injustice and inequality felt like from a victim’s point of view. These horrible experiences inspired Maryann to live a life of public advocacy; live a life and build a career built on the principles of social justice and equality. To this day, she remains a largely influential and historical figure of Canadian history through her work in affecting change with regards to racial discrimination, segregation, and racial inequality.

Resources:

http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=17

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/mayann-elizabeth-francis/

http://www.cbc.ca/informationmorningcb/2009/10/mayann-francis.html

Pack the Court: No Silence on Sexual Violence

Supporters, including Mandi, outside Old City Hall during the Ghomeshi trial.

On February 1st, young feminists descended on Old City Hall in various shades of pink clothing and lipstick to attend a sexual assault trial.  We weren’t there for the Ghomeshi trial; we were there for the Ururyar trial.  We were there to support our friend and fellow activist, Mandi Gray, as she testified against Mustafa Ururyar.

The first three days of the trial were filled with rape myth-based motions, blatant victim blaming and parallels being drawn between what was happening one floor below in the Ghomeshi trial and what we saw in the courtroom we sat in.  Following three days, half of which Mandi was on the stand under cross-examination, the trial as put off until April to review new evidence.  After watching Mandi testify, she is no doubt the toughest person I know; the defense lawyer in this case has attacked her character and self esteem throughout the entire cross-examination.

Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star was present and covered what has happened in the trial thus far:
http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/02/07/the-sex-assault-trial-one-floor-above-ghomeshi-porter.html

Porter wrote, “there was a line up outside this courtroom too- not of journalists though.  Most of the crowd in the small domestic violence court were young feminists, here to support their friend, Mandi Gray”.  I want to talk about who that group was, including Mandi, and why we were there.

The line up outside of the courtroom where Mandi was testifying was made up of people from across Toronto; there were students from York, University of Toronto and Ryerson.  On all three days, there were between 30 and 40 people in the court room.  We were there to support Mandi and wore pink to show our solidarity.  I’ve had a number of people ask me why we were there and do we really think it makes a difference?  My answer is yes and no.

Why yes?  Apparently supporting a sexual assault survivor is a radical thing to do, both in our criminal justice system and generally.  With the Ghomeshi trial, the amount of victim-blaming and slut-shaming in the media, online and at dinner tables has increased substantially.  The media filed a motion in court to publish a photo of a sexual assault survivor in a bikini, need I say more?  The rape myths present in the criminal justice system continue to be blatant, especially during cross-examinations.  To come out and support a survivor who is testifying sends a clear message that we believe them.

In a world where over 50 women can accuse one man of sexual assault and we don’t believe them, believing women becomes viewed as radical.  In a world where survivors are not believed and face a criminal justice system that re-victimizes them, wouldn’t it be nice to have 40 people or even just one person in your corner?  The Crown and Judge aren’t in survivors’ corners; they aren’t there to make sure the survivor isn’t re-victimized on the stand.  We were there to be in Mandi’s corner.

Why no?  Our presence isn’t going to sway a ruling.  We were there because we all know that the system is broken and has always been broken.  We are all well-versed in the issue of sexual violence and know the criminal justice system does not protect survivors or convict perpetrators.  While we hold some hope that Ghomeshi and Ururyar will be found guilty, we know this is a long shot.  There’s been a lot of media focus on Ghomeshi’s lawyer and how the survivors were not prepared to testify, but these issues are much bigger than one individual case; this is an entire system that is ineffective in addressing sexual violence as a crime.

Our presence won’t sway a ruling and these rulings won’t sway us.  We know that a “not guilty” verdict does not mean violence didn’t occur.  These verdicts have no bearing on whether or not violence occurred; they have bearing on the criminal justice system’s ability to properly apply criminal law to sexual assault.  In court rooms filled with rape myths, victim-blaming, slut-shaming and a focus on literally everything but the violence in question, the answer is no, the criminal justice system is not in a position to determine if violence has occurred.

No matter what the judges in these cases rule, the response to these verdicts is going to be loud.  We won’t be going home and accepting that the criminal justice system has done its job.  The people who have been standing outside with signs aren’t going away.  Those of us sitting in Old City Hall are all advocates in a variety of ways; we are documentary film makers, members of Silence is Violence-York, placement students at VAW organizations, members of Silence is Violence- U of T and the Ryerson Feminist Collective, and individuals who want to see a world without violence.

We made a Facebook event to support Mandi.  We have sat in the court room laughing, sighing and making side comments throughout the trial, knowing the judge could kick us out (he didn’t).  Mandi has kept her head up despite the amount of attacks on her self-esteem and character, and will return to testify in April.  She is also bringing forward a Human Rights Complaint in how York University handles sexual assault.  We are unapologetic in believing survivors and we will be back at Old City Hall in April.

“Guilty” or “Not Guilty”, we aren’t going to be silent about sexual violence.

Black History Month Spotlight: Viola Desmond

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As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we shed light on a historic Black Canadian figure. Viola Desmond was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She initially trained to become a teacher but decided to change career paths. She was a successful businesswoman who owned a barbershop and hairdressing salon business in partnership with her husband, Jack Desmond. In the midst of her business’ expansion, Viola left for New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 to pursue a brighter future for her business.

It is in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia where Viola Desmond makes a name for herself as one of the most influential and remarkable people – especially as a woman – during times of segregation between Blacks and Whites. Viola Desmond innocently went to the movie theatres one night in New Glasgow and decided to take a seat in the main floor of the theatre. Unbeknownst to her, this specific theatre had specific tickets for African Canadians – who should be seated in the balcony area – and White Canadians – who may be seated in the main floor of the theatre, where the movie can be better seen. Upon being asked to leave her seat and relocate to the segregated seat she was intended to sit in, she refused. The police were called and Viola Desmond was charged without being advised of her right, ending in her spending the night in jail.

The following morning, she paid the fine of $20 for the alleged crime and was charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia with the difference in tax between a ground floor ticket at the movie theatres and a balcony seat ticket. The difference amounted to approximately one cent.

Desmond courageously decided to fight the charges against her, understanding that the issue was not surrounding around the idea that it was tax evasion, but rather, inherently racist. Viola Desmond took the case to court, where she was able to gain public opinion on the matter both locally in her own community, nationally, and internationally. This issue raised significant awareness on segregation within Canada.

Viola Desmond’s arrest quickly caught the attention of the Black Canadian community. The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) raised money to per her fine and help her to fight against her charges. Carrie best – the founder of Nova Scotia’s first Black owned and operated newspaper, publicized her story in order to truly amplify her message and spread awareness.

As a result of the garnered attention generated by Demond’s case, the government of Nova Scotia had no choice but to eliminate segregation laws. In 1954, the government completed repealed them.

This was quite a significant turning point in the history of segregation within Canada as it revealed and exposed the fact that segregation was still real and alive within Canadian borders. At that time, there was a notion that Canada was the safest place for Black people who are being racially discriminated and segregated internationally to go to. Canada was put on a pedestal for being “free of segregation and racial discrimination,” when in reality, such practices were still very much alive and not eradicated. This event urged the Canadian community – who was expected to be an ally in the Black Civil Rights Movement – to take corrective action and implement more inclusive and culturally-aware laws and policies into legislation. It significantly sparked the wave of Canadian Black Civil Rights movement, urging Canadians to explore, expose, and correct issues surrounding racism and racial discrimination within our own borders.

This event truly catapulted Canada’s policies and legislations towards a more progressive and inclusive direction. The Canadian government began consciously implementing more diverse, multicultural, and inclusive laws in the years to follow that incorporates Black Canadians into Canadian culture as valued members of society. As a result of the corrective action that followed after this event, Canadian people adopted a more culturally aware, inclusive, and diverse ideology about race. The issue of racism was brought to the forefront of social justice issues and light was being shed on racial discrimination as being very much so present in Canadian society, contrary to popular opinion.

This event ignited a very important movement in Canadian society. It sparked the discussion and the need for action towards a society that is built on a foundation of diversity and multiculturalism. Viola Desmond remains an influential historical figure in Canadian history who, despite how little her action back then may have seemed, took an action that is not only significant but extremely powerful.

Resources:

http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=13

http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/249537

http://canada.metropolis.net/EVENTS/ethnocultural/publications/historical.pdf

Sexual Violence on Campus: Arrested and Charged

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*trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence*

The year of 2015 was one that reignited the discussion of sexual violence on post-secondary campuses across Canada and the United States.  While activists, students, feminists and scholars have been having these conversations and screaming for acknowledgement of an epidemic happening on our campuses, this topic was thrust into the spotlight this past year.  This happened in a number ways including Ryerson’s new sexual violence policy, the airing of CBC Fifth Estate’s School of Secrets and the Hunting Ground, stories of Jian Ghomeshi’s time in post-secondary education, the filing of Human Rights Complaints against post-secondary institutions including University of British Columbia and York University, Lady Gaga’s “Until it happens to you”, and the continuous hard work of activists to put a spotlight on this issue and demand a response from universities and colleges.

Despite greater public awareness of the epidemic of sexual violence on campus and new policies made by some schools, huge gaps remain in addressing sexual violence on campus.  These gaps put students at risk, re-victimize survivors, push survivors off campuses, deter reporting and are discriminatory based on gender, considering the majority of sexual assault survivors are woman-identified.

A major gap that post-secondary institutions have failed to address is perpetrators of sexual violence on campus, specifically those that are under investigation or have been arrested and charged.

On January 9th, York University Security Services released a security bulletin about an arrest made in a sexual assault case.  A York University student was arrested and charged with sexual assault following reports from two students during the Fall 2015 semester.  The security bulletin gave no information about if this student was still on campus and what actions would be taken to ensure student safety.

PhD student and activist, Mandi Gray contacted York University Security Services for more information about the student and the arrest.  Mandi is in the process of filing a human rights complaint against York University for how they handled an assault by a fellow student and colleague.  The trial beings February 1st: https://www.facebook.com/events/812545115537982/.

The security officer who took Mandi’s call was extremely rude and disrespectful to her and provided no information about whether the student who was arrested would be returning to classes on campus for the Winter 2015 semester.  Her concerns about sexual violence, student safety and a serial rapist being present on campus were dismissed and brushed off by the security guard.  This is how survivors are treated by post-secondary institutions.  Being apart of the York University community, Mandi knows who this student is and he is still on campus.

This student is charged with sexually assaulting two students yet remains on campus.  This means that the two women are starting their Winter 2016 semester knowing the man who assaulted them could be around every corner they turn on campus.  If they are in the same program, they may be in the same classes as him.  If they work for the same department or internship, they may have to share an office with him.  How is this fair to these two students?

Rapists being present on campus habe been an issue that post-secondary institutions are unwilling to address.  One of the common responses is that the perpetrator’s education will be interrupted if they are removed from campus.  Post-secondary institutions are more concerned about a perpetrators’ education than a survivor’s right to safety on campus.  Another common response is that post-secondary institutions allow perpetrators to remain on campus to avoid law suits.  Again, a survivor’s right to safety is overlooked.

If a student perpetrates sexual violence on campus, they are a threat to student safety and should be treated as such.  If a student is arrested and charged for sexual assault, or is under investigation by police or the school, they should not be allowed on campus.  While this would be ideal and the safest solution for survivors and students, post-secondary schools have not responded in this manner.  They have continued to allow perpetrators to attend classes and be present on campus.  If schools are unwilling to remove perpetrators from campus, steps need to be taken to ensure survivor and student safety.  If a student is charged with a violent crime against other students, and is going to be on campus, shouldn’t security be monitoring them?  Survivors are told to utilize security services to ensure their safety on campus following sexual assault, why not have security walk with perpetrators to ensure student safety?  This would protect all students.

If post-secondary schools are concerned about lawsuits from students who are barred from campus, there are ways to address this.  Due to the state of our criminal justice system and rape culture, convictions in sexual assault cases are extremely rare, which could open opportunities for perpetrators to sue colleges and universities for wrongfully suspending them and denying them an education.  A way to address this concern is to place students who have been arrested and charged for sexual violence on home instruction.  They would still be able to take classes but would have to do so online and would not be permitted on campus.

If post-secondary institutions are not going to take the appropriate steps to protect students on their campuses, they need to release the names of those who have been arrested and charged so students can take their own measures to be safe on campus.   Allowing serial perpetrators to freely attend classes and be on campus unnecessarily puts students at risk.  Safety is a right, post-secondary education is privilege; It’s time for post-secondary institutions to value the rights and safety of every student over the privilege of post-secondary education for one.

Sources:

http://security.news.yorku.ca/2016/01/09/security-bulletin-9-january-2016/

Photo from: http://knowyourix.org/campus-dating-violence/

The Story Behind The Storyteller

The Storyteller Logo

The Storyteller Logo

I think the Internet is full of trolls and it’s not necessarily the safest place to share things, that’s why I love the idea behind The Storyteller.

In a nutshell, The Storyteller is an online platform that gives people the opportunity to speak about things they might not be open about sharing with other people. It is not affiliated to Ryerson or the RSU. The only relation The Storyteller has to Ryerson is that it was started by Ryerson students.

I had the honour of meeting up with the creators of The Storyteller and learning about the inspiration behind it all.

Banner with 'The STORYTELLER' written on it

Banner with ‘The STORYTELLER’ written on it

Trisha Rolfe is a fourth year Child and Youth Care (CYC) student here at Ryerson. She told me that she learned a lot from other people’s stories and that’s why she wanted to start the blog. She’s found that she tends to be a person people come to when they need someone to talk to and it’s made her realize how much she’s learned from being an open ear. She wants to give people an opportunity to learn about aspects of peoples’ lives that they may not necessarily share openly with others. The original plan was to start a blog with her friend however that kept getting pushed back so she just ended up spearheading The Storyteller alone. Now there is a team of four working together to maintain the blog and various other social media sites.

The team! <Jamie Lupie, Kiri Witmer, Trisha Rolfe, Deanna Aguiar>

The team! Jamie Lupia, Kiri Witmer, Trisha Rolfe, Deanna Aguiar

Trisha first recruited her friend Jamie Lupia, a 3rd year student double majoring in creative writing and labour studies at Brock University. Initially, Jamie was just to help with the blog’s illustrations but she eventually started contributing posts based on some of her own experiences as well. She is the one responsible for the beautiful illustrations found throughout the blog. Afterwards, two more CYC students, Kiri Witmer and Deanna Aguiar, joined them.

Around the same time the blog was started Kiri had posted a video talking about her experiences with suicide. Kiri expressed how important it is for people to talk about issues however she felt that she keeps a lot to herself. Trisha saw this video and approached Kiri because she thought that she embodied ideals that would fit well with The Storyteller. Similarly, Trisha approached Deanna as well because she also thought that she would also be a good fit as she is extremely supportive. Each of the four members contribute to the blog in their own way.

Trisha started The Storyteller blog back in April 2015 and it is amazing how much it has grown since then. They have had several events one at Brock University and an open mic night in Niagara as both Trisha and Jamie are originally from there. They also showcased The Storyteller here at Ryerson during the FCS Student Achievement event. Trisha told me that this was her favourite event as there were a lot of people interested in reading stories. Also, it was a great way to bring awareness to our faculty to inspire people to do things outside of the classroom.

The Storyteller booth at the FCS Student Achievement Event at Ryerson University

The Storyteller booth at the FCS Student Achievement Event at Ryerson University

However, the classroom has helped fuel some of the ideas behind The Storyteller as Kiri has told me that they use concepts they’ve learned throughout the CYC program. One extremely important concept being self-care which is something that we can all relate to and should practice. It’s meant to be an outlet for not only sharing experiences but also to educate as well as to be a sort of therapy. The Storyteller also incorporates a strength-based approach because they want to focus on one’s strengths as well as celebrate the challenges or barriers one was able to overcome.

The Storyteller stresses the idea that “You are not alone” and that all of us are The Storytellers. That’s why submissions are strongly encouraged as sharing may find the solution or sharing might very well be the solution. It’s a way for people to get things off their chest so they want your rants! Submissions can be about any topic and in any form of media: stories, poetry, art, songs, etc. You can choose if you want your posts to be anonymous. They will be accepted and shared as long as posts aren’t racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, ablist, sanist, or discriminatory in any way. If you’re interested in making a submission click here! 

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OR if you would like to know more or if you would like to contribute in other ways you can email thestorytellerweb@gmail.com or visit any of their social media platforms: the blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

Tie a Red Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree

In 1988 the world was so captivated by the sudden emergence and destruction brought on by an itty-bitty virus that they gave it its own international day, World AIDS Day. Every December 1 the world recognizes what has come and hopes for what will be for those living with and affected by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The World Health Organization (WHO) states that approximately 34 million people have died from HIV/AIDS and that almost 37 million people are currently living with HIV. Additionally, WHO states that there are 2 million new HIV infections each year.

To give some context, HIV is a lentivirus that attacks the immune system and reduces it to the point where an individual cannot defend themselves from other pathogens. Once an individual has reached the last stage of HIV infection, as determined by an extremely low level of white blood cells that leads to the occurrence of more than one opportunistic infection (tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc.) they are diagnosed with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is obtained through sexual intercourse and blood-to-blood contact with an infected individual, such as sharing infected needles, blood transfusions, and during pregnancy. HIV cannot be contracted through common day-to-day activities such as hugging, kissing, and sharing objects such as food and water. This may seem silly to point out but less than 20 years ago it was still common to be confused about the transmission of HIV. It may still be confusing in certain parts of the world where people are not educated about HIV. All of the confusion that surrounded HIV/AIDS is what led to the paranoia and stigmatization of people living with HIV and in particular homosexuals, sex workers, and intravenous drug users as they were the majority populations the virus was found in early on. Thankfully, due to education and awareness initiatives the confusion and by extension the stigmatization has been decreased, at least in the minority world. In the majority world it can still be dangerous to reveal your HIV status as there is still heavy stigmatization. Fear, stigmatization, and a lack of education are the primary barriers to the treatment and prevention of HIV infection.

While the treatment of HIV has been a long and bumpy journey, the prevention methods have not changed very much. There are few prevention methods for HIV infection but they are very simple. Harm reduction techniques for intravenous drug users, such as sterilizing and not sharing needles, and proper sterilization and disposal of medical equipment will prevent HIV infection. Additionally, for sexually active individuals the best protection is the proper use of male and female condoms. However, there have been recent developments in HIV prevention. This is the use of antiretroviral medication for individuals who are not infected but may be exposed to the virus. A pre-exposure prophylactic, or PrEP, is a once-a-day pill that impedes HIV infection in those exposed to the virus. If taken properly and consistently PrEP has been found to be an effective prevention technique. PrEP works by supplying the body in advance with HIV medications that lower viral levels in the blood, in an individual who is not infected the medication will stop HIV from spreading if they are exposed to it. However, PrEP is not a replacement for condoms or other prevention techniques, it is to be used in conjunction with them as it is not 100% effective. There is only one prevention technique that can claim to be 100% effective and that is abstinence, at least in cases of sexual or drug transmission. Along with prevention techniques there is a psychological side to HIV infection and prevention and Ryerson has been playing around with it for some time.

The psychology department at Ryerson operates the HIV Prevention labs. Dr. Trevor Hart and his associates conduct research on how to prevent HIV transmission among high-risk groups and how to promote quality of life among people living with HIV. Their current research is dealing with how HIV negative men who have sex with men protect themselves from HIV and those men who use alcohol and substance abuse to calm sexual anxiety. Additionally, their research revolves around the psychological aspects of sexual interaction, such as the courage and strength it takes to say no to someone who doesn’t want to use a condom when you do. Sex can be intimidating and sometimes we go along with what the other person wants even though we feel differently. If you don’t know the HIV status of your partner you should use a condom, be selfish and use a condom.

It is not surprising that Ryerson puts so much thought into HIV prevention, it has been educating its students on prevention methods for some time. In the 1980’s and 90’s Lynn Morrison, a professor of anthropology, headed education seminars and workshops to educate students on HIV and safe sex. This included practical information and experiences such as how to properly use a condom. At one time Ryerson had an AIDS awareness week and even a mascot, Condom Man, a giant penis with a condom on walked our halls handing out contraceptives. There was also the AIDS Education Project, which was a peer service out of Pittman Hall that provided students with AIDS information and support for those living with HIV. This is something that has survived time and can still be found as part of Ryerson Health Promotion (JOR03 and JOR04). However, there is something that has not survived time here at Ryerson, at least not to my knowledge, and that is the outright promotion of safe sex. It may seem outdated and common knowledge but how many students really use condoms or think that they will contract HIV if they don’t? HIV doesn’t seem like a threat until it’s right in your face. Moreover, we wouldn’t need an HIV prevention lab if HIV were not a problem. HIV is still very much alive in Toronto and Canada; 21% of the HIV positive people don’t know they have it and everyday 7 Canadians are infected with HIV. We need to think about the implications of our sexual habits and we need to have safe sex.

I use the Ryerson Archives for my Ryerson related research and as I was sifting through the AIDS related newspaper clippings I came across an article about a man named Steven Bailey. In 1992 Bailey spoke as part of the Nursing Students Association AIDS Education Conference. Bailey related the feelings that he had when he was diagnosed with HIV and the pain that it caused him to be labeled as positive. At this time in Canada HIV was heavily stigmatized and considered a death sentence as there was no viable treatment available. In the beginning Bailey told people that he had cancer because he found that he got more respect that way, people treated him better thinking he was dying of cancer rather than AIDS. Bailey believed he would beat AIDS, at a time when there was no hope that was all he had. Everyone living with HIV or AIDS needs hope and they need support. Someone infected with HIV is not the child of a lesser God, they deserve love and they deserve life. Bailey was 31 when the article was written and all he wanted was to live to his 35 birthday. I cannot say what happened to Steven Bailey but I can say that I hope he and anyone living with HIV is able to live their life to the extent they wish. HIV is no longer a death sentence and should not be treated as such; we should not continue to stigmatize those who live with HIV.

People living with HIV or AIDS do not need pity they need support. I call on Ryerson and its health committees to be vocal on campus. We should be informing students and helping them to be confident and safe in their sexual practices. We should also be supportive of those living with HIV, why make it harder for someone to find support? Lastly, I want to know what happened to Condom Man.

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